In a bid to support children with disabilities to have equal opportunities to study and score highly in school, the government has hired consultants to put together the first ever local sign language dictionary; the parliamentary committee on social affairs heard this week.
Updating the commission on the progress that has so far been made in giving people with disabilities equal opportunities in school and in the employment field, the Executive Secretary of the National Council of Persons with Disabilities (NCPD); Emmanuel Ndayisaba, said that the dictionary is scheduled to be complete by the end of this fiscal year.
He pointed out that after the dictionary is complete, resources will then be shifted to incorporating it in schools.
"We will produce different teaching materials including audio, visuals and many more. Then after that, we can sit down with the Ministry of Education and talk about how these materials can be incorporated in their curriculums so that when thestudents are done with school, they are on the same level of service delivery as the rest," he said.
Lack of experts
The Minister of State in charge of Social Affairs; Alvera Mukabaramba told the committee that the production had been a constant feature on their performance contracts (Imihigo) but had been hampered by lack of local experts.
"We had no local experts in this area. We hired someone from one of our neighboring countries and he started on the project but we have since found others and the project is going well. We are optimistic that by this time next year, it will be complete," she said.
Mukabaramba said that by producing a local dictionary, the government was hoping to harmonise the sign language so that students with hearing impairment can understand better as well as facilitate the free movement of teachers.
"Each country has its own way of communicating using signs based on their own local language. There are times when people help us in schools but they are using their own country's sign language. We want that to change as soon as possible," she said.
Mukabaramba welcomed ideas from the MPs to see sign language used on all local televisions during news time.
"We are going to call for an urgent meeting with both private and government broadcasters so that they can tell us what they need to have interpreters in all the segments of their news. We can discuss how they can pay the professionals or how the government can find extra money to do so," she said.
She pointed out that mobilisation and sensitization should continue so that Rwandans can understand that people with disabilities have rights and they should be given equal opportunities with the rest of the community.
Last year, the President of World Federation of Deaf, Collin Allen called on the government to consider scaling up the use of sign language for improved social inclusion.
"Every country has its own sign language. You have opportunities to advocate for the inclusion of sign language until it's among the official languages. If the country aims to leave no one behind, sign language too should not be left behind because it is the language of deaf people," he said.
MP Eugene Mussolini, who represents persons with disabilities advised the regulators to look into expanding the scope of the categories of the people with disabilities who can access public buildings.
"To be honest, a lot has been done and we are very grateful that there are so many avenues through which people with disabilities are being supported.
However, I suggest that the scope of disability is broadened because it seems to me that the physical part is what is being looked at but what about hearing or visual impairment?," he said.
MP Marie Florence Uwanyirigira requested the government to look into providing more support to institutions that take in severely disabled children.
"There are institutions where children with severe disabilities are abandoned by their families, making them their full responsibility. Most of them are overwhelmed. The government needs to look into ways to support them," she said.
Government has been supporting persons with disabilities over the years through its National Employment Programme (NEP - Kora Wigire).
The support is channeled through BDF and the money goes to Umurenge Savings Credit and Co-operatives who offer the loan to beneficiaries.
As of late last year, 239 cooperatives with over 11,029 members had benefited from the programme.
According to the third Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey 2012, there are some 34,000 deaf people in Rwanda, but statistics from Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD) point to around 70,000.